Podcast mike don’t mean it’s journalism

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Not all podcasts are created equal.

Putting a celebrity in front of a microphone does not mean that person is doing journalism. Especially when the host is also a celebrity.

If you’re not a listener, I’m referring to the growing genre of podcasts from actors, musicians, and other bold Hollywood names, who talk with other celebrities about their lives, opinions, and issues. of the day. These programs may share a basic format with journalistic endeavors, but are not bound by any of the same standards and practices.

Celebrity reporting has always had its share of dodgy practitioners — from reporters who flatter their subjects and overlook uncomfortable truths in order to maintain access, to those who traffic in gossip and nastiness for nastiness’ sake.

Whatever the reason celebrities turn into pseudo-journalists, some skepticism is warranted because they so often flounder when faced with anything that could jeopardize their personal relationships. There is a lack of will – and know-how – on the part of these hosts to engage in anything beyond a softball conversation.

In private, that’s what friends do. But for public consumption? What are the conflicts of interest, especially when the two parties are either friends or simply evolve in the same professional circles? What kinds of over-corrections take place to ensure that a client never has to deal with anything that might even hint at an inconvenient truth? What are the conversations that don’t happen because there’s an unspoken agreement among celebrities about what’s or isn’t on the table?

Something happens when celebrities interview other celebrities. It all has a whiff of PR and superlatives and mutual admiration and makes everyone feel boosted.

Consumer watchdog group Truth in Advertising has identified 19 celebrities who may be involved in promoting NFTs (crypto assets) without disclosing their connection to these projects. In August, the group sent letters to each celebrity.

From the outside, it can often seem that the rich and famous prioritize maintaining at least the facade of friendly relations over speaking truth to power. You watch over me, I will watch over you.

Actor Jon Bernthal hosts his own podcast and not too long ago featured a sympathetic chat with fellow actor Shia LaBeouf. It’s an episode that could be interpreted as the latter’s attempt to rehabilitate his image ahead of a trial to be brought to court in the spring, in which he allegedly assaulted and inflicted emotional distress on the ex-girlfriend. FKA branches.

You can be professional and respectful without ignoring the elephant in the room. Or let someone engage in a diversion. Or allow dubious claims to go unchallenged. Smart journalists, ethical journalists know that this is a fundamental part of the job. It takes practice to learn how to do it well. It’s not about being mean or judging – it’s the art of interviewing. We shouldn’t expect celebrities – even the smartest of them, even those we admire – to have these skills or even the desire to learn them. But it also means we have to listen with a critical ear.

Celebrities are allowed to host as many podcasts as they want. But that’s not journalism. It’s public relations. Sometimes it’s very shrewd PR that feels like it’s full of substance, but it’s PR all the same. And it should be treated with at least some skepticism about the motivations and image management behind it.

We often talk about the importance of media literacy when it comes to distinguishing between hard news reporting and opinion columns and gossip pieces that don’t have a named source in the folder. But media literacy is just as vital when it comes to absorbing celebrity news. The more informed we are about the media we consume, the better off we are.

The good news: Illinois recently became the first state in the nation to require media literacy to be taught in high school.

Nina Metz is a reviewer at the Chicago Tribune.

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